Every one of us is born into a society where we interact with people from a very young age: our neighbours, people we go to school with, those whom we’ve seen elsewhere in the neighbourhood, and so on. And as time passes, we become closer to them, and they begin to be known as our friends.

What does Islam teach us about friends? We need to be aware that we should follow a certain set of rules and regulations when interacting with people whom we consider to be our friends. What should we share with them? How should they impact our lives? Let us take a look at some of the teachings of Prophet Muhammad (sa) in this regard.

The Prophet (sa) said: “A man follows his friend’s religion, so you should be careful about who you befriend.” (Tirmidhi and Abu Dawood) Therefore it is very important to select our friends carefully, making sure we do not befriend those who will have a negative impact on us. These teachings of the blessed Prophet (sa) are priceless. If he says that a person is known by the type of friends that he/she keeps, we need to realize that this is exactly the way it will be.

For example, if a person’s friends are all on drugs, there is a 99% chance that this particular person will also be on drugs, even though he/she might hide it very well from family members. What else can be in common between them if they are not on drugs? Sometimes (and this only one percent chance) it does happen that a person has thirty friends who are all on drugs, but he claims he himself is not on drugs. He may be telling the truth – perhaps, he is working on those friends of his to bring them out of drugs. However, there is a greater chance of them deviating.

  1. Birds of a Feather Flock Together

It’s a saying that “birds of a feather flock together”. This means we interact and mingle with like-minded people who think in a manner similar to ours and talk about things at a certain level. This is point number one to remember. It is important to mix with like-minded people who will not affect us negatively, but will help us grow and develop positively.

Sometimes people ask: “What if I am in good company (which is good for me) but I might be bad for them? So how do I know who is in good company and who is in bad company?” Well, our religion gives us the answer: if you have a positive impact on someone, it means that they are in good company, and they have good friends; if you have a negative impact on them, then they are in bad company. This means: if they are having a negative impact on you, then you have bad friends, and if they are having a positive impact on you, even though you might be not that grand a person, they are definitely good company for you.

  1. Sharing Secrets

Now, let’s move further to the sharing of secrets between friends and what type of information we should be giving them. Prophet Muhammad (sa) says: “When you love someone, love them in moderation because one day, they may become your enemy or they may dislike you.” (Tirmidhi) This is a very powerful teaching. When we love someone, when we are close to someone, and when we have friends, we sometimes share secrets with them; we give them a little bit of information that we would not like others to know. In that particular instance, we can become enslaved by that piece of information they are holding. And then they can either blackmail us, or they will hold it to the degree that they can make us do whatever they want, threatening to release that information. For this reason, it is important for us to know what type of information we give people and how much we give them. There are certain things that you do not share with anyone, especially when a person has committed a sin.

Islam teaches us that we should never be proud of sharing a sin with others. The Quran says in Surah An-Nur that those who like spreading tales of sin between or among the believers will face a severe punishment in this world and the next. This means that we should not spread tales of immorality between the believers. If someone has committed a sin, it’s their secret between them and their Maker. They should repent as soon as possible and believe that they are now forgiven, because Islam is based on forgiveness, and the Almighty is the Most Merciful, the Most Forgiving. So when a person begins to share the way they have sinned, they become enslaved by the people they share their secrets with. If, at a later time, they’d like to break off the relation for legitimate reasons, their ex-friends will always hold some embarrassing information about them. Sometimes we might not be able to break off a relation, even if we have legitimate reasons to do so, solely because they are holding this confidential information about us.

  1. Choosing Your Friends

Thirdly, we also need to know that we do not have to befriend everyone who wishes to be our friend. We need to be selective about whom we befriend, as not everyone is good friendship material. Some friendships may result in you degrading yourself. People who mingle with those who swear a lot may end up swearing excessively. People who interact with those who frequent nightclubs and pubs may end up visiting these places solely because of peer pressure.

  1. Circles of Relations

We need to have circles of relations where you have the innermost circle (people closest to you) and then you have the slightly bigger circle (people who are not as close). Then you have those who are not even as close as this bigger circle, and thereafter are just acquaintances.

The reason for division in such circles is that some people are so close that we can share much more with them. Likewise, there are others whom we need to hold at an arm’s length with respect, love, and care. Love for our Deen, our Maker, and for the entire community at large. However, this love should be based on our understanding of what love is. It does not mean that if you love someone, you drop all barriers and let them have whatever they need and want. No. We need to realize that there are people whom we might not trust as much since we haven’t tested their trust yet. We might not know where exactly they are standing, and for that reason, we won’t share much information with them because of their distance with us.

The Quran says that the even the very close friends (we normally use the term bosom buddies) will be enemies on the Day of Judgement, except for those who were conscious of their Maker. The Quran says this is because many people are close to each other but that friendship has not led them to become closer to their Maker. And for this reason, on the Day of Resurrection, they will say: “I wish that I had had such and such person as a friend, rather than this one. Or I wish that I did not have this particular person as a friend of mine because they led me astray. They took me away from the worship of the Maker. They took me away from goodness and took me to evil. And for this reason, they have resulted in my destruction today.”

Thus, when a friendship has not drawn both people closer to the worship of the All-Mighty, they are at loss. Some people know each other because of wealth, because they have gone to school together, or they enjoyed a sport together. We need to keep such people in their appropriate circles. It does not mean that you will allow them to come into your home, without vetting their children and the way they’ve brought them up. You might have exerted yourself to bring up your children in such a good way that you don’t your friends’ children to spoil your children’s tongues or eyes.

  1. Inviting Each Other Towards Good

We need to be beneficial to those who have befriended us. If they are making a mistake, it is our duty to tell them that they are doing something wrong. If we don’t tell them, we are making an even bigger mistake. We are going to be responsible for this on the Day of Judgement. The All-Mighty is going to ask us: “I made you a friend of so and so – why did you not remind them of their duty towards Me?”

Likewise, we ourselves should learn from this to not feel bad when we are corrected; if we express our displeasure at being corrected, nobody will bother to correct us in the future. So if I feel bad because somebody has highlighted a mistake I am making, the only way I will excel is when I thank them and really think about what they have said. Sometimes I might feel that they have not understood me properly, but the minimum I should do is to take their advice and make them feel respected. They have been genuine to me, and they have corrected me; I need to thank the All-Mighty that certain people are there to correct me.

There is a growing trend amongst the young. They do not want to be told anything; they do not want to be corrected. If that is the case, how are we going to develop? How will we grow? How will we get closer to our Maker? How will we succeed in this world and the next?

For example, I see a man whose wad of banknotes is sticking out of his pocket. I say to him: “Brother, your money is sticking out of your pocket.” And he says: “Hey! Who are you to tell me? I don’t want to listen. Why do you talk to me?” Well, he is foolish. A thief will come and take his money – then it will be too late to regret. So the next time I will see the money almost dangling to the floor, I will keep quiet because I know the answer I got the last time.

It is important for us to remember to be happy when people correct us. When someone says: “Look, brother/sister, I think you are making a mistake…” it is a sign of true friendship. They have genuine feelings for us. And for this reason, we need to befriend those from whom we will be able to learn.

I hope this advice about friends has been beneficial to you.

Transcribed for hiba by Asma Imran